Having been a lifelong Springfieldian, I have witnessed firsthand how our community comes together in times of strife and need. While we have a metro area of around 250k people, our city feels like a small town in the sense that when a friend or a neighbor encounters hardship, we show up.

I recently photographed a Veterans Day benefit and art auction that Springfield Strong, a local organization which addresses the needs of homeless or poverty-stricken vets, hosted at Q Enoteca wine bar. The turnout was spectacular, and featured entertainment by local musicians Jin J. X and Tim Kingrey. There were heartfelt poetry readings centering around what it means to be a veteran, and the emotion in the crowd spoke volumes about how meaningful the words were to those who listened.

Mayor Bob Stephens was there - giving a compassionate and informative speech about the state of homelessness in our city, and offering advice on how we can help organizations like the Kitchen and Springfield Strong. He also donated the majority of art pieces to the silent auction, which ended up raising over $2200, all of which went to help the vets that Springfield Strong serves.

Trysta Herzog and Jessica Mahan are the kind of people who see a need, and show up.

Trysta started Springfield Strong because of her compassionate heart, and her ability to energize people and get them involved in such a wonderful cause is admirable. You can see how much this means to her. She has built a relationship with the men and women she serves, and genuinely cares about bettering their situations.

Jessica uses her artistic talent to advocate for the veterans - painting portraits that show the world that these men and women are more than a statistic. Every brushstroke tells a story of unbreakable spirit and character. Clifton, the gent above with the impressive beard, has become the honorary figurehead for Springfield Strong. You can see how proud he is of his portrait, and he was recently placed in permanent housing and is making a new life for himself. Alice, another of Jessica's subjects, was also in attendance at the event, and her story and portrait show the courage and willpower she possesses. 

I was very impressed by how well-organized and successful the event was. Our vets deserve to be celebrated - no matter their situation, no matter how long or decorated their service was. We owe these men and women our freedom, our livelihood, and our respect. It was so nice to see such a beautiful celebration of our nation's brave spirit, and I cannot wait to hear more success stories, like Clifton's, which will surely come about due to the efforts of Springfield Strong.

If you would like to find out more about Springfield Strong and how you can help, please visit their website at www.sgfstrong.com